Victor W. Bolie

Victor W. Bolie

As published on the University of Colorado Cancer Center website.

Father of Invention: Late UNM professor’s bequest supports CU molecular biology

Victor W. Bolie was happiest when he was conducting research. An engineer, he reveled in math and would jot down formulas on bits of paper as he worked to make sense of his world.

“Vic was the most inquisitive person I’ve ever met,” says Martin Bradshaw, a professor of electrical engineering and a colleague of Bolie’s for many years at the University of New Mexico. Nothing—not even extra duties as the chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at UNM— kept Bolie away from his investigations: He set up a lab in his office so he wouldn’t have to stop working on projects.

“He always wanted to be at the forefront of things,” recalls Bradshaw.

Bolie shared his love of investigation with his students, pulling them in to assist him and directing research for more than 30 master’s theses and PhD dissertations. So it is no surprise that he and his wife Earleen, a teacher, decided to make a substantial bequest to an educational institution dedicated to training young, brilliant minds.

What is extraordinary, however, is Victor’s choice to donate to the Molecular Biology program at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, even though the Bolies had no direct ties to the university. It was the program’s outstanding regional reputation that inspired Bolie to contribute more than $2 million in gifts to the program during the final decade of his life and after his death in 2011.

Wide breadth of interests

Those who knew Bolie describe him as “remarkable.” He earned degrees in mathematics, physics, chemistry, medical physiology, and electrical engineering. During his distinguished career in industry and academics, he filed 38 patents for inventions that were as wide-ranging as his knowledge—from a vertical axis wind turbine to a finger blood pressure measuring device. His awards and publications were numerous.

After his retirement in 1995, “he developed an interest in finding a cure for cancer, and he felt the best chance would be in the field of molecular biology,” says Victor’s nephew, Steve Bolie.

Victor not only returned to UNM as a student for more study and research, but he also began searching for an institution that was performing exemplary work in the field. Bolie apparently learned of the CU School of Medicine’s molecular biology program from an advertising poster with tear-away cards that had been sent to UNM. He eventually contacted program administrator Jean Sibley seeking detailed information.

“He asked a lot of questions. Halfway through the conversation, she realized he might be interested in making a contribution,” explains James DeGregori, professor and director of the Program in Molecular Biology at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. “He was very excited about us and was interested in what we were doing.”

A highly regarded program

The CU School of Medicine’s molecular biology program was initiated more than 25 years ago with the goal of training graduate students to be experts in molecular mechanisms—the inner workings of the cell. The program usually consists of about 40 students who work in about 50 labs and attend seminars, round-table meetings and other activities to promote the exchange of ideas.

“The top research coming out of the university is frequently driven by students in our training program. They are publishing in top journals and making seminal contributions to cancer biology and to the understanding of molecular mechanisms of cells,” says DeGregori. “Victor had a real passion for educating students, and even though he was more of an engineer, he was very interested in molecular biology and felt this was where the country needed to go to maintain our edge.”

In 2001, the year after Earleen died, Victor began making yearly donations to the program. The contributions supported the Victor W. and Earleen Bolie Molecular Biology Travel Scholarship, which allows students to attend conferences, present papers, and meet with other scientists. Funding also established the Victor and Earleen Bolie Molecular Biology lecture, presented annually at CU by a distinguished scientist.

That same year, he bequeathed a portion of his estate—more than $1.8 million—to establish the Victor W. and Earleen D. Bolie Graduate Scholarship Fund. The first awards were made in July to three top graduate students—Juliette Petersen, Becky Fusby, and Mike Holliday—and the endowment fund will annually support three or four students in perpetuity.

Holliday studies how different classes of enzymes twist and contort, and he hopes discoveries will lead to more efficient drugs and ways to alter proteins for medical and industrial applications. “It’s very difficult to find funding, and this award frees us up to do more science than we would be able to do otherwise,” he says.

During the past 15 years, funding from the National Institutes of Health has declined, says DeGregori, and private gifts make a difference in the ability to train scientists and support ongoing research. “We are incredibly grateful to Victor and his family for this gift. He was a passionate advocate of training the next generation of molecular biologists.”